Many Muslim business owners watch sales fall
By Lorrie Grant, USA TODAY
October is shaping up to be a bad month for restaurateur Hafiz Abbasi.
Weekend wedding celebrations and engagement and retirement parties at his
Afghan Restaurant key moneymakers all have canceled through Oct. 26
after the terrorist attacks. Sales at his Alexandria, Va., restaurant, not
far from the Pentagon, are off $30,000, about 40%, since Sept. 11.
"They say they are scared there may be some retaliation because the
restaurant says 'Afghan,' " Abbasi says.
His is just one of many Muslim-owned businesses reeling from effects of
the attacks. For some, the fallout has gone beyond lost business to
vandalism and threats.
Through Tuesday, 785 incidents nationwide of Muslim harassment had been
reported to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Incidents have
ranged from street-level pestering to alleged unfair interrogation by
government officials and law enforcement, watchdog groups say. And some
incidents could intensify if the USA takes military action.
"It will be perceived as patriotism," says Agha Saeed, chairman of the
American Muslim Alliance. "When you feel justified in doing it and
colleagues look the other way, the perpetrator becomes bolder."
For now, many Muslim-owned businesses are attempting to keep a lower
profile. Some have pulled out of public events. At the same time, some
Islamic events where they would do business have been canceled.
Noor Arts Production in Dearborn, Mich., figures that about 10% of its
annual sales have been wiped out by the recent cancellation of major
annual Islamic conventions in Chicago and Los Angeles. The company markets
its Muslim children's books, audio and video tapes, and software to
conventioneers. About 8,000 people usually attend the Chicago convention
and 3,000 in Los Angeles.
"They were canceled because of the attacks and fears that there might be
an attack where we are, too," says Noor Arts' Yeser Abdelbary, who is from
Business also is off for real estate agent Ahmad Fawad of True-Vision
Network Real Estate in San Jose, Calif. He usually hosts open house visits
on the weekends but says traffic plummeted 60% just after the attacks and
"It's not back to normal," says Fawad, who fled Afghanistan 16 years ago
after the Russian invasion. "It is still down about 20%."
He blames some of the sluggishness on the slowing economy, rather than on
reluctance to do business with a Muslim, however.
In Toledo, Ohio, used car sales at First Step Auto were "completely dead,
frozen" for days, says owner Bassem Kareem, a naturalized American from
Palestine. Customers now are showing up at the dealership, but business is
still off more than 25%. "People are mad right now," Kareem says.
Some religious groups and others are trying to counter that anger.
Mohammed Alo, secretary general of the United Muslim Association of
Toledo, says members of about 40 Christian churches are patrolling a
mosque and an Islamic school after reports of drive-by shootings.
And some Muslim businesses report a similar outpouring of goodwill from
those trying to counter anti-Muslim sentiment.
Tiger Lebanese Bakery, which has sold Middle Eastern foods in Toledo since
1971, had a 10% sales jump following the attacks.
"We had seen people who had not been here for a while," says owner Abdul
Hammuda, who is from Lebanon.
Other shop owners are optimistic that business will return and harassment
Abbasi of the Afghan Restaurant, for example, says he is no longer dealing
with phone calls charging, "You blew up my country."
And he says the reopening of nearby Reagan Washington National Airport
will speed a return to normal sales.
"We get 35 people a day who are National Airport employees, and my menus
are at the hotels."
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